NBA Finals: The Record Holders

The NBA Finals is one of the biggest sporting events there is, the culmination of the highest-quality basketball league on the planet. It’s in these games that reputations are earned or lost, where the game’s best are able to enter the realm of the truly elite. With the 2022 Finals just around the corner, we’ve taken a look at some of the players, teams and coaches that have made their names on the biggest stage, positioning themselves as record holders in some of the most important categories.   


Team Records


Most NBA Championships

17: Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics

The Lakers and the Celtics share the record for the most championships in league history, and after them it’s not close. Sitting in third place are the Warriors and the Bulls, both of whom have six, a little over one-third of what Los Angeles and Boston have managed. The Lakers have spread their wins reasonably evenly over the NBA’s 75 years, winning a lot in the early ‘50s, a few in the ‘80s and ‘00s, and most recently winning in 2020. Boston, meanwhile, famously won eight in a row and 11 in 13 years between 1957 and 1969, but have won just once (2008) since 1986.


Most Finals Appearances

32: Los Angeles Lakers

This one goes relatively easily to the Lakers. While the Celtics have an incredible strike rate when reaching the NBA Finals – losing there just four times compared to their 17 wins – the Lakers have endured a few more defeats. That number is 15 to be exact, with many of those defeats coming during the aforementioned golden era of the Celtics; that team beat the Lakers in 1959, ’62, ’63, ’65, ’66, ’68 and ’69.


Highest Team Score in a Finals Game

Boston Celtics: 148

In a theme which will become increasingly constant throughout this piece, the record for the highest team score in a Finals game once again comes from a contest between the Celtics and the Lakers. This one was in 1985, a series which the Lakers ended up winning 4-2, but Game 1 certainly wasn’t an indication of what was to come. The Celtics dominated the series opener, putting up a massive 148 points to win by 34 against the team that would go on to beat them in six games.


Highest Scoring Finals Game

276 points: Philadelphia 76ers vs San Francisco Warriors

The highest scoring finals game came back in 1967, in the first of what would ultimately be a six-game series win to the 76ers. Unsurprisingly the game went to overtime, but even without that extra period there were a huge 256 points scored in the first four periods. No single player dominated the box score – Rick Barry was the highest scorer with 37 points – but there were three Warriors who scored 20 points or more, as well as four players from the 76ers. 


Individual Records


Most NBA Championships

11: Bill Russell

Unsurprisingly, it’s a member of the unstoppable Celtics team of the ’60s who sits atop the list as the most successful individual player in history. Fittingly, that player is Bill Russell, the centrepiece of that dynastic team and the only player to win 11 NBA Championships, all of which he managed between 1957 and 1969. His long-time teammate Sam Jones sits just behind him with ten, while five more of Russell’s teammates won eight championships. 


Most Finals Points

1,679: Jerry West

Jerry West is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to ever set foot on an NBA court, and his work in the NBA Finals played no small role in him establishing that reputation. West helped his Lakers team to the NBA Finals on nine occasions, though despite his consistent high level play on the biggest stage, he incredibly won just one NBA Championship, with the Celtics continually getting in his way during his career, which ran from 1960-1974. LeBron James sits in second place with 1,562 finals points and still has the potential to take this record off West, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is in third with 1,317 points. 


Most Finals Assists

584: Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson holds the record for most assists in the NBA Finals very comfortably; LeBron is in second but back on 430, while West is in third with 306 – just over half what Magic managed. Like West, Johnson led his Lakers to the Finals on nine occasions, but he had a little more success than his purple and gold counterpart, winning five Championships throughout the course of the 1980s. 


Most Finals Rebounds

1,718: Bill Russell

Russell’s Finals rebounding numbers are something to behold; the 1,718 that he snared throughout his incredible career are just shy of twice what anyone else has managed. Wilt Chamberlain sits in second with 862, while no one else has even surpassed 600. It’s unsurprising that Russell would have some pretty impressive numbers in NBA Finals given the regularity with which his side reached them and the success they enjoyed once there, but the incredible lead he holds in this statistic is truly testament to his dominance.


Most Finals Blocks

116: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest players of all-time, accumulated no shortage of accolades throughout his glittering career, including a record 19 NBA All-Star appearances and six NBA Championships. He has scored the most points in NBA history, but he wasn’t exactly a slouch on the defensive end either, something to which his 11 NBA All-Defensive teams appearances are a testament. His ten NBA Finals appearances helped him to accumulate plenty of stats deep in the postseason, and the 116 shots he rejected are comfortably the most in NBA history. Tim Duncan is second with 81 blocks, while Shaquille O’Neale sits in third with 62.


Most Points in a Finals Game

61: Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor’s incredible 62-point game came in Game 5 of the 1961/62 Finals series between, you guessed it, the Lakers and the Celtics, with the series tied at 2-2. Baylor’s huge game helped his Lakers to a 126-121 win, though they would ultimately go on to lose the series 4-3 courtesy of an overtime loss in Game 7. Baylor hit 22 field goals throughout his big night out (though he did take a huge 46 shots), and hit 17 of his 19 free throw attempts.


Most Assists in a Finals Game

21: Magic Johnson 

The legendary Magic Johnson, owner of the most assists in Finals history, also has the most in an individual game having clocked a massive 21 in the 1984 Finals series against the Celtics. That helped his Lakers to a 137-104 victory in Game 3 and gave them a 2-1 lead in the process, though they would ultimately go on to lose that series 4-3. Magic owns second and third spot, too, having racked up 20 assists in two other Finals games, while he also picked up 19 assists in a couple of others. 


Most Rebounds in a Finals Game

40: Bill Russell

Bill Russell holds this record with a number which, in the modern-day NBA, would be virtually unfathomable. Incredibly, he did it on two occasions; once in 1960 and once in 1962. Unsurprisingly, it’s the two most dominant rebounders in league history in Russell and Wilt Chamberlain who dominate this statistic, owning 23 of the highest rebounding 25 games ever in the NBA.  


Coaching Records


Most NBA Championships

11: Phil Jackson

The legendary Phil Jackson holds the record as the most winningest coach in NBA history, having accumulated 11 throughout the course of his career with the Bulls and Lakers. His first six, of course, came during the Michael Jordan era, with the Bulls winning three in succession on two separate occasions during the ‘90s. He then moved to the Lakers in 1999, where he would go on to win in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010. Red Auerbach sits in second, having won nine with the Celtics, while no one else has won more than five. 


Most NBA Finals Appearances

13: Phil Jackson

Unsurprisingly, this one goes to Jackson too, though he only adds two more to his repertoire from his total championship numbers. He sits ahead of Auerbach, who made it to 13 NBA Finals in total, while Pat Riley is in outright third with nine appearances – five of which he won with the Lakers and the Heat.

One clear trend which emerges from the above is the absolute dominance of the Lakers and the Celtics over the years. And with players like Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar donning their respective jerseys, it’s little wonder they’ve both been able to separate themselves from the pack as the most successful NBA teams in history. Some of the aforementioned records may someday be surpassed, but many others think Bill Russell’s 40 boards in a game will likely never be broken.